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Kids’ Building Sets That Prove Toys Don’t Need Blinks, Beeps and Batteries

Brainy blockheads in Europe are developing toys that teach kids creative skills they can build on. Here, the best ones to order online.


Sara Clemence

TO THE LIST of things at which Europe bests the U.S.—public transit, charming accents, life expectancy—we can now safely add toys. Across the Atlantic, boutique brands are designing low-fi, high-quality building sets that can help shape kids’ spatial reasoning, focus, motor skills and creativity. What’s more, the kits are intricately amusing, something rarely seen in plastic playthings. “We want children to learn that it’s very satisfying to build something beautiful which is your own,” said Dutch toy designer Léon van Geest. But you needn’t endure a cramped economy flight to pick these up; we found the best kits available online. No blinks, beeps, or batteries. And these deceptively simple, sturdy sets look pretty good in the living room, too.

A Lego Up

Created by a five-man Dutch cooperative, Brikkon sets are easily assembled and designed to work with your child’s Legos, providing a foundation for your little cutthroat developer to imagine, embellish and layer on color. The forms are laser-cut from sustainably harvested wood. Kits include a treehouse, spaceship and castle. 3 and up. From $9.50, brikkon.nl


Masonry work might seem like punishment for kids—until you shrink the bricks to peanut size and throw in a tiny trowel. German-made Teifoc sets let kids mix concrete and build wishing wells, houses, windmills, even a scaled-down Brandenburg Gate with real terra-cotta slabs. Older kids can stray from blueprints and engineer their own structures. 6 and up. From $15. eitechtoys.com

Tune Tower

Swiss inventor Samuel Langmeier first created Xyloba to share his passion for music with his children. Little ones build towers and ramps using wooden blocks embedded with xylophone chimes. Arrange them correctly and the included marbles play a song as they roll their way to the bottom. 3 and up. Kits from $89, shopxyloba.com

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